The Closing of the Gothamite Mind

17 04 2010

For those who are not familiar with my continuing battle with Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, here’s a recap. Bloom was a classicist who taught at my university in the mid-Sixties, leaving after racial tension erupted in the armed takeover of a building by several black students. He then went to the University of Chicago and, among other things, published The Closing of the American Mind, which would become his major contribution to the American cultural consciousness. I’m reading his book because first, it’s important, second, it’s very well-written, and third, he lived at my house in the Sixties, and is still an influential part of our thinking.

If you don’t like Bloom, he’s a snobby, hypocritical elitist, who argues that only rich white men could possibly possess the intellectual rigor required to examine the classics and come away with strong ideas about good and evil. If you like Bloom, he’s the only man willing to stand up for absolute good and evil in a world ruled by moral relativism and political correctness.

I’m not going to lie any more. I really, really don’t like Allan Bloom.

I feel bad about that. But I just can’t take him rationally or seriously in some places, because in a book that seems to be entirely about mocking people who make unpopular choices and fight for acceptance of them, what really seems to be bothering him is that his ideas aren’t being accepted. A large part of his book is devoted to mocking and then out-of-hand rejecting ideas that actually make a lot of sense to me, like that knowledge be tied to actual learning instead of being inducted into an aristocratic culture that’s inaccessible to most people.

Interestingly, at the same time as Bloom was writing his philosophical treatise on the degeneration of democratic culture, comic book author Frank Miller was writing on a very similar subject in now-classic Batman story The Dark Knight Returns. DKR and CAM are both shots across the bow in the culture wars of the 1980s, and, while radically different, both cover a lot of the same territory ideologically.

I’ll talk about this seriously at some point, but right now my lowly bourgeois female mind just wants to make charts.  So, CND Pictures presents…

The Closing of the American Mind vs. The Dark Knight Returns

Year published:

CAR: 1987
DKR: 1986


CAR: Allan Bloom
DKR: Frank Miller


CAR: The disembodied voice of Allan Bloom
DKR: Batman

Plot rundown:

CAR: Allan Bloom becomes increasingly disillusioned with American society and goes through a series of case studies on American emptiness, including “relationships,” rock music, and historicism.
DKR: Batman becomes fed up with the tolerance of crime in Gotham and kills Two-Face, the Joker, and a gang of teenage street toughs in Day-Glo jackets.

Rogues’ Gallery:

CAR: Liberals, feminists, multiculturalists, Mick Jagger.
DKR: Liberals, feminists, multiculturalists, the Joker.

Against democracy because:

CAR: American democracy breaks the will of the individual, leading to a thoughtless “anything-goes” morality and an inability to critically examine ideas for their objective worth.
DKR: Democracy breaks the will of the individual by stopping people from taking responsibility for their own communities and identifying evil when it is found.

Least favorite liberal buzzwords:

CAR: “life-style,” “relationship,” “value.”
DKR: “psychosocial infection,” “I’m OK — You’re OK,” “tolerance.”

Proposed solution:

CAR: Somewhat difficult to tell. Apparently involves dissolution of democracy in favor of rule by aristocratic philosopher-kings, and the removal of women from all fields of non-domestic labor in order to preserve the sanctity of home life.
DKR: The goddamn Batman.

Feasibility of proposed solution:

CAR: In the short term, low.
DKR: Possibly has already happened.

Author is now:

CAR: Dead.
DKR: A warmongering caricature of his former self who nonetheless manages to rake in millions of dollars a year by edgifying 1930s Will Eisner books.



2 responses

22 08 2010
Jerry Casale

Well, on the evidence so far, it is hard to see where Bloom is “an influential part of our thinking” in your own case.

In any event, it would be very interesting to learn how he came to be living in your house during the ’60s.

22 08 2010

Bloom taught at Cornell and was a visiting professor at our house in the Sixties, and he made a big impression on people like Francis Fukayama (who wrote The End of History, which gets assigned in pretty much every intro-level political science class.) He was apparently something of a cult figure both on campus and in the house I was in–his students would gather around talking about classics and the canon late into the night.

He left Cornell after a black students’ group took over a building on campus–which was kind of a weird point in Cornell’s history no matter what your political orientation–and went to the University of Chicago, which is where he wrote Closing of the American Mind, which became a New York Times bestseller.

Also, my coblogger is wondering if you are from Devo.

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